During Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 2010 run for the Senate, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said, “Rand Paul is outside the comfort level of a lot of people in the Jewish community, and in many ways outside of where the Republican Party is on many critical issues.” At the time, this included the Senate hopeful’s refusal to state whether he supported the U.S. aid package to Israel.
I agree with the 2010 Matt Brooks.
During the past three years, Paul has built a powerful brand on Capitol Hill. He has become a celebrity within the GOP and is now taken seriously as a 2016 presidential candidate. He hasn’t publicly changed many of his most radical positions — indeed he has doubled down on several of them. In fact, Paul has repeatedly called for cuts to Israel’s aid and is the only member of the U.S. Senate who has not unequivocally and consistently rejected a containment strategy as a response to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
With this clear record, it is surprising that the RJC chose to have the senator meet with its top leaders, especially when there are plenty of other GOP senators who fully support Israel’s aid. In fact, The Washington Post reported that Paul delivered “pleasant surprises” during the meeting, and JTA characterized the gathering as “reconciliatory.” What were the “pleasant surprises?” And what made the meeting “reconciliatory?” So far, the RJC has refused to explain.
NJDC has consistently brought attention to Paul’s alarming statements in favor of cutting Israel’s aid, while our Republican counterpart has used its voice to attack pro-Israel Democrats.
Initially, Paul was very vocal and active in pushing for cuts. In January 2011, almost immediately after entering the Senate, Paul authored a budget proposal that would have cut Israel’s aid. In September 2011, he put forward a defeated amendment that would have cut Israel’s aid along with aid to other countries. Shockingly, he labeled the U.S. military aid package to Israel as “welfare” in February 2011.
Since then, as some observers have noted, the senator has relaxed some of his rhetoric on foreign aid. Instead of an immediate halt to Israel’s aid, he says he wants to see gradual cuts in the future. In a recent New Republic profile, Julia Ioffe noted, “Rand, like his father, wants to end all foreign aid, but he has softened this position when it comes to Israel, whose assistance, he says, should be wound down gradually.”
Further, Paul was the only senator to vote “no” on a Senate resolution ruling out containment for a nuclear-armed Iran. And earlier this year, he explicitly refused to rule out containment in a speech to the Heritage Foundation. In a Senate that rarely agrees on any issue, why was Paul the lone dissenter when it comes to rejecting containment in voting against S.J. Res 41?
Chosen by his Republican colleagues to serve on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul’s foreign policy preferences have been given a loud and important pedestal. As GOP leaders continue to give him a free pass on his extreme views, the RJC should not be legitimizing him and providing its hechsher (unless he has really changed).
Now, the big question: what were the “pleasant surprises” in the RJC’s meeting? Did Paul give some sort of clarification on his dangerous views regarding Israel’s aid? Did he finally and fully reject containment as an option for Iran?
Or, was the RJC doing the same thing that many others in the Republican Party are doing: preparing for 2016 Republican presidential nominee Rand Paul?
Aaron Keyak is the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.